Before the Bengals There Were . . . the NFL Champion Cincinnati Rams? It Almost Happened

Cincinnati RamsFans of the Cincinnati Bengals likely don’t know how close they came to gaining an NFL franchise a full twenty-two years before the expansion Bengals started play in 1968.

Or should we say . . . re-gaining. The Queen City briefly had an NFL team called the (football) Reds through 1933 and the first eight games of 1934 before they were tossed from the league for not paying their dues and replaced outright by the short-lived St. Louis Gunners.

In its NFL-less years between the 1930s and 1960s, Cincinnati very much was on the league’s radar and frequently was mentioned as an expansion or relocation destination. The closest call for the city came in January 1946 when Dan Reeves, owner of the newly crowned NFL champion Cleveland Rams, requested permission to move his franchise to Los Angeles.

The NFL’s moguls were skeptical. No team had yet to locate west of the Mississippi River. Team travel to California would be prohibitively expensive. And besides . . . the Rams had no guarantee they would gain access to the 100,000-seat L.A. Coliseum, which was then the nearly exclusive domain of college football.

The owners gave Reeves the green light but, as noted (on p. 15) by Joe Horrigan of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Researchers Association, it came with a caveat:

Cleveland was given permission to transfer to Los Angeles on the condition that it secure the use of a stadium by April 15, 1946. If this condition was not met, the team and franchise were to be transferred to Cincinnati.

As it was, Rams general manager Chile Walsh negotiated his way into the publicly owned Coliseum and the good graces of L.A.’s civic leaders in no small part by agreeing to integrate his team with two African-American players, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, thereby launching a half-century tenure of the glamorous Los Angeles Rams.

But had that L.A. deal fallen through, Cincinnati would have been home to the Rams, the league’s defending champions.

To this day, Cincinnati awaits its first NFL title.

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